The creation of the United Nations 75 years ago was heralded with high hopes. “May it be taken as divine significance,” declared Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie in May 1945, “that, as we mark the passing of the Nazi Reich,… delegates from all United Nations… are now met together for their long-planned conference [in San Francisco] to lay foundations for an international pact to banish war and to maintain World Peace.” At the concluding session on June 26, the delegates signed the founding Charter, which aspired to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women.” Congratulating the delegates, President Harry Truman proclaimed, “Oh, what a great day this can be in history,” even though “this is only a first step.”
As called for by the Charter, the Human Rights Commission was soon organized. Chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, it labored tirelessly through nearly two years and hundreds of meetings to produce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948, “not [as] a treaty,” explained Mrs. Roosevelt, but as “a declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms,… to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.” Her expectations echoed those of many of her fellow delegates: “We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind…. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”
Recognizing “the inherent dignity and… equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” (Preamble), the Universal Declaration insists that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” (Article 3) and “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (Article 18). These and all other rights mentioned pertain only to individuals, with one exception. The family, society’s foundational group unit based on marriage between a man and a woman, possesses inherent dignity and rights which States are morally bound to respect and protect: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family…. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State” (Article 16). Such was the clear-eyed vision of the fledgling United Nations for what was hoped would be, in the words of Harvard Professor Mary Ann Glendon, “a world made new.”
Since its founding, the UN has grown in membership from 51 countries to 193, and, as recently noted by the Economist, “sits at the centre of a rules-based world” and “span[s] almost every aspect of life.” But good intentions and accomplishments—particularly for the world’s children—notwithstanding, the UN’s gradual departure from founding principles has become so dire as to cause a sitting US president to upbraid the General Assembly. “Global bureaucrats have absolutely no business attacking the sovereignty of nations that wish to protect innocent life,” declared President Donald Trump in September 2019. “Like many nations here today, we in America believe that every child—born and unborn—is a sacred gift from God.” This was followed in May 2020 by a letter from the Trump Administration (officially from the acting administrator of USAID) to the Secretary-General warning the UN not to “intimidate or coerce Member States that are committed to the right to life,” and criticizing the UN for “cynically placing” in its Global Humanitarian Response Plan “the provision of ‘sexual and reproductive health services’ on the same level of importance as food-insecurity, essential health care, malnutrition, shelter, and sanitation…. To use the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification to pressure governments to change their laws is an affront to the autonomy of each society.”
How is it that the UN has strayed so far from its founding vision? “Within a few decades,” explains sociologist Gabrielle Kuby, “the UN became an institution that would use its power and resources to change the image of humanity as declared by the Declaration of Human Rights and to replace universal moral values with relativistic postmodern ‘values’ as the foundation of culture…. Today the UN and its powerful sub-organizations fight for dissolution of men’s and women’s sexual identity [and] elimination of marriage and family.”
We who have long worked with UN ambassadors and their missions have witnessed firsthand the incessant attempt by a coalition of nations and powerful NGOs to promote their anti-life, anti-family, and anti-faith policies in every possible UN conference and venue. One brave but distraught delegate told me, “The UN is destroying our families!”—a lament we have heard in various iterations countless times from developing nations that are often forced to comply with UN mandates or forfeit much-needed funding. This affront to sovereignty is cunningly designed to have the same kind of coercive effect internationally that Roe v. Wade did in the United States. “The reason people want the Supreme Court to declare that abortion is a constitutional right,” explained the late Justice Antonin Scalia, “is precisely to rigidify that right; it means it sweeps across all fifty states, and it is the law now and forever.”
Years ago I was privileged to interview Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, then the Holy See’s representative to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, who said that “a very small minority is slowly taking control of international structures and imposing them on the rest of society by taking the concept of rights and emptying it from its prior meaning and then putting in a new meaning. Religion is viewed as a negative force which blocks the fulfillment of the individual’s rights.” This dangerous agenda, added the Archbishop, “aims directly at changing the human condition and therefore its consequences are more destructive than the ideology of Marxism. We must resist this new ideology, and stand up and use every means available to create a counter-force,” for unless we do, it will be “the suicide of society.”
The 75th anniversary of the United Nations is a wake-up call to confront the reality that the UN now threatens the very principles it once pledged to protect. Haile Selassie, no stranger to dangerous attacks on freedom, warned, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” For ourselves and coming generations, we cannot afford to lose the battle that has been thrust upon us.